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Predicting the past: Dialect archaeology and Australian English rhoticity

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The division of the world’s Englishes into rhotic and non-rhotic types is clearly due to the fact that the former are conservative in not having undergone loss of non-prevocalic /r/, whereas the latter have. The beginnings of the loss of non-prevocalic /r/ in English have generally been dated by historians of the language to the 18th century. It is therefore obvious, and has been widely accepted, that Irish English, Canadian English, and American English are predominantly rhotic because the English language was exported to these colonial areas before the loss of rhoticity in England began; and that the Southern Hemisphere Englishes are non-rhotic because English was exported to these areas in the 19th century after the loss of rhoticity. Analysing newly-discovered data from Australia, we present some surprising evidence that shows that this obvious conclusion is incorrect.
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Keywords: 19th century English; Australian English; English dialects; New Zealand English; colonial English; non-prevocalic r; rhoticity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of East Anglia 2: University of Canterbury

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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